Tonight's Matchup: Brewers (Greinke, Again) vs Pirates (McDonald)

HOUSTON,TX- JULY 08: Zack Greinke #13 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws against the Houston Astros in the first inning on July 8, 2012 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

And finally we're back to baseball.

The Brewers open the second half tonight with a lot of work to do to get into the NL Central race, and Zack Greinke (3.32 ERA, 2.35 FIP) becoming the first pitcher in Brewer franchise history to start three consecutive games. Greinke had a brief four pitch outing before being ejected on Saturday, then started again and allowed three runs on five hits over three innings on Sunday. He threw a combined 70 pitches in the two games.

Greinke is already the NL leader with 19 starts this season, and will make his 20th tonight. If he stayed with the Brewers and pitched every fifth day through September, he could make 16 more starts and become the first Brewer starter to appear in 36 games since Cal Eldred in 1993. He'd be just the second Brewer pitcher to reach that mark since 1978.

Greinke hasn't faced the Pirates yet in 2012, but the Brewers won three of his four starts against them last season despite the fact that he posted a 5.76 ERA over 25 innings. Five Pirates have faced him ten times or more:

Player PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Andrew McCutchen 14 .154 .214 .385 .599
Rod Barajas 13 .154 .154 .462 .615
Garrett Jones 12 .167 .167 .167 .333
Neil Walker 11 .273 .273 .636 .909
Clint Barmes 10 .667 .700 .889 1.589

He'll face James McDonald (2.37 ERA, 2.97 FIP), who at age 27 is having a career year. His 6.2 hits allowed per nine innings is the NL's lowest rate, and he's allowed just eight hits over 14 innings while striking out 14 in two July starts. He beat the Giants on Saturday by allowing a run on four hits over seven innings, walking none and striking out ten.

The biggest difference between McDonald's previous struggles and his 2012 campaign is his control. He's walking around 2.5 batters per nine innings this season, down from over four last year. Opposing batters are also hitting just .242 on balls in play against him, though, so there's also some luck involved. He throws a low 90's fastball with a very good slider and curve and the occasional changeup.

McDonald beat the Brewers on June 3, holding them to three runs (one earned) on four hits over six innings with a walk and eight strikeouts. Nyjer Morgan took him deep in that game. No current Brewers have faced him ten times or more.

Tonight's lineup (h/t Todd Rosiak):

RF Norichika Aoki
CF Nyjer Morgan
LF Ryan Braun
3B Aramis Ramirez
1B Corey Hart
2B Rickie Weeks
SS Cody Ransom
C Martin Maldonado
P Zack Greinke

In the bullpen:

John Axford, Manny Parra, Jose Veras and Francisco Rodriguez last pitched on Sunday.
Livan Hernandez and Manny Parra last pitched on Saturday.
Tyler Thornburg last pitched for Nashville on July 4, and has pitched just twice since June 9.

There's a chance of isolated thunderstorms tonight, but temperature-wise it should be a nice night for baseball. It's expected to be in the low 80's at game time with the temperature falling into the high 70's as the night goes along. The roof will most likely remain open unless storms are imminent.

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